“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2)
How do the children in your congregation engage in Sunday worship? Do they?
Teaching the following mindfulness practices to children will help them find more meaning on Sunday mornings. (They will also help adults remember their connection to God.)
What is mindfulness anyway?
“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment." (Kabat-Zinn, 2003)
Simply put, mindfulness is paying attention to this moment. It is being aware of what you are thinking, feeling, and doing at the time that you are thinking, feeling, and doing it.
And it’s nothing new to Christians.
For a look at mindfulness as “just one of a family of practices, now often forgotten, that have long been part of the Christian tradition" check out http://www.antiochian.org/mindfulness-known-church-fathers.
Below are descriptions of how to teach the five mindfulness practices I most often use with kids. I recommend teaching the practices during Sunday School, Worship Prep courses, or Wednesday night programming and encouraging the kids to use the techniques during Sunday worship. You can also give a copy of the practices to parents and encourage them to create a daily family mindfulness practice.
When I visit a church to teach mindfulness I always bring a toolkit and talk with the children about the imaginary “toolkit” that travels everywhere with them. I associate each tool with one of the five mindfulness practices below in order to give the kids a visual aid. And I remind them often to use the tools in their mindfulness toolkit at any time they need help focusing, or overcoming a fear, or calming energy.
I love the imagery of the tool kit because Christ was a carpenter who taught the early disciples to be mindful. I also love it because tools help us create. Likewise, mindfulness helps us create connection to God.
Note: For each mindfulness practice I use an instrument to indicate to the children when to begin and end each technique when they are first learning as a group. I will describe the activities below as if you were using a singing bowl, but feel free to use whatever instrument you have available.
Introduction: Tell the kids that they are going to practice mindful breathing and ask someone to explain what that means (paying attention to your breath).
Instruction: Instruct the kids to pay attention to their breath from the time they hear the bowl rung the first time to the time they hear it rung a second time. To help them stay aware of their breath tell the kids to silently repeat the words “breathing in” on their inhalation and “breathing out” on their exhalation. Before ringing the bowl instruct the kids to sit tall with their eyes closed.
Using mindful breathing in worship: Encourage the kids to practice mindful breathing when they sit down before the worship service begins and during moments of silence.
Introduction: Tell the kids that they are going to practice mindful listening and ask someone to explain what that means (paying attention to sound).
Instruction: Instruct the kids to pay attention to the sound of your instrument and when they no longer hear its sound to lift one arm in the air. Before ringing the bowl have the class sit tall and close their eyes. Ring the bowl once and wait until each child has a hand raised. Next, tell the kids to pay attention to every sound they hear (inside the room, outside the room, inside their bodies) between the time they hear the bowl rung a first time and a second time.
Using mindful listening in worship: Encourage the kids to listen for how many times they hear a specific word during the worship service. Have them keep track and compare week to week. Alternatively, have them listen for words they have never heard before or don’t know the meaning of and then ask!
Introduction: Tell the kids that they are going to practice mindful seeing and ask someone to explain what that means (paying attention to what you see).
Instruction: Instruct the kids to choose something in front of them that is not moving and to stare at it from the time they hear the bowl rung the first time to the second time. Blinking is of course allowed!
Bring imagery into this activity by having the kids think of an animal with better eyesight than humans and pretend to have that animal’s eyes. Tell them to use their “animal eyes” and move their head slowly as they look around the room for something they have never noticed before.
Using mindful seeing in worship: Encourage the kids to use mindful seeing during the Assurance of Pardon. They can also practice noticing what is different in the sanctuary each week, including items on the alter, how many people are in the choir, and what color paraments are out.
Introduction: Tell the kids that they are going to practice mindful eating and ask
someone to explain what that means (paying attention to the texture, temperature, and taste of food).
Instruction: Before passing out one raisin to each child tell them to hold it and notice what it looks like, smells like, feels like, and even sounds like. Pass out the raisins. Once they have paid attention to the raisin in their hand for about one minute have them slowly chew the food for one minute and notice how warm or cool it is, its different tastes (salty, sweet, sour, etc), and how the texture changes the longer it is chewed. Finally, they can swallow the food and notice how their mouth feels and tastes.
Using mindful eating in worship: Communion!
Introduction: Tell the kids that they are going to practice mindful walking and ask
someone to explain what that means (paying attention to their bodies as they walk).
Instruction: Instruct the kids to stand on one side of the room and slowly walk to the other side of the room paying attention to how their body feels moving through space.
Using mindful eating in the world: Encourage the kids to practice mindful walking from the moment they step through the door of the worship space (sanctuary, fellowship hall, etc) to the moment they sit down.
If you have any questions about teaching these techniques please do not hesitate to ask in the comments section below!
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based Interventions In Context: Past, Present And Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10 (2), 144-156.